Is Liberia Ready for the New Covid-19 Variant from India?
Monrovia – President George Manneh Weah is yet to sign off on a controversial new protocol that would reportedly quarantine travelers from India, a country currently overwhelmed with a new coronavirus variant dubbed, “double mutant”, FrontPageAfrica has learned.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
At least 15, 000 Indians travel to Liberia annually for business or visit to families, friends and loved ones doing business in Liberia.
As of May 6, according to the Situation Report prepared by the National Public Health Institute(NPHIL),incoming travelers testing positive for the virus were put at five. There have been five positive cases regarding travelers from Australia, Pakistan, Nigeria Traveler from Australia tested positive, Ghana.
By nationality, the positive tests include one Australian, two Liberians, a Pakistani and a Nigerian. By profession, two of those testing positive were businessmen, a PFM consultant, a student and a Geologist. No positive tests were reported out of India where the variant is rising by the day.
All five cases embarked from Australia, Ghana, Pakistan, Nigeria, and the United Arab Emirates. Three of the passengers flew in on Kenya Airways, one on Africa World Airlines and one from Qatar.
The variant recently detected from samples collected in India.
The country of about 1.3 billion people has seen infections rise by more than 1 million in the past week alone, bringing its total number of cases since the start of the pandemic to more than 18 million. The death toll has surpassed 200,000 and is expected to be much higher. The surge hit as India’s government loosened restrictions and struggled to vaccinate its population with variants potentially serving as an accelerant.
The variant, whose official name is B.1.617, is described as a bit of a misnomer, because it actually carries 13 mutations, seven of which are in the spike protein. The moniker comes from two notable mutations found in other variants that appeared together for the first time in this new strain: the L452R mutation and the E484Q mutation.
Strain a Concern Around the world
The L452R mutation in the spike protein was first found in the COVID-19 variant detected in California.
One study found that the California variant carrying this mutation may be up to 20% more transmissible than wild-type strains.
In the United Kingdom and other countries, the strain has been declared a “variant of concern” as cases skyrocket.
Health authorities in India say that the new variant has a shorter incubation period, whereas the progress of the infection is much faster than the other strains.
In other words, the authorities explained, earlier a patient suffering from COVID-19 infection will take upto 7 days to develop hypoxia or dyspnea stage, but it has been observed that patients with this new strain are getting serious within 3-4 days of contracting the infection. This situation has made the already stressed healthcare system more pressured as the requirement of hospital beds with oxygen and ICU has increased manifolds.
In Liberia, which has seen few casualties from the virus, authorities are said to be concerned but covid measures around the country have not been as vigilant as it should be in recent times.
Since the virus was first reported in Liberia in March, 2020, there have been five reported deaths, 2, 114 infections and 1,962 recoveries.
Protocol in the air
Nevertheless, health authorities have reportedly adopted a protocol which will require travelers from India to be quarantine upon arrival. The protocol however has not been finalized because President Weah’s office has reportedly not given the greenlight.
Multiple sources confirmed to FrontPageAfrica that part of the protocol entails quarantining travelers from India at the Freezone on Bushrod Island.
According to travel booking website Wego, 26 countries had banned travel from India as of May 3 in the light of the overwhelming wave of COVID-19 infections in the country, upending many travel plans.
Bangladesh and Pakistan have closed air and land borders to arrivals from India. China’s curbs on travel from outside its borders have remained very strict even before India’s second wave and were therefore not tightened further. Travel remains limited to some essential reasons and comes with extensive testing and hotel quarantine requirements.
Flights from India are currently suspended to Belgium, Canada, Hong Kong, Kuwait and Iran, among others. Germany, for example, has not halted flights, but only allows German residents and citizens to board them. Long-term visas and student visas will not be honored, however
The U.S. has also suspended almost all travel from India beginning May 4 during a devastating Covid-19 surge that has shattered global records for new cases.
With Liberia’s health system in dire straits and concerns over the lack of ventilators and adequate tools to deal with a massive wave, many fear a major catastrophe if the strain slips into Liberia if the right precautions are not put in place.
Authorities at the NPHIL, however, say it has equipped a center which has over 85 bedrooms for Quarantining of Travelers coming from India, Pakistan, Nepal and areas adjacent. Additionally, within the Infection Disease Center, there is a treatment unit of about 40 room with over 80 beds. “The unit has no less than 20 ventilators, a few oxygen tents and an incinerator to manage medical waste. There are 5 professional medical doctors assigned at the center, 10 hygienist, 5 psychosocial and metal health clinicians and a host of professional nurses and Pas,” an official told FrontPageAfrica Sunday.